ABIDJAN (Reuters) – Ivory Coast launched the world’s first COVID-19 inoculation drive on Monday with doses imported from the COVAX sharing facility, a milestone in the race to extend vaccine access to poorer countries.
Patrick Achi, the secretary-general at the presidency, was the first to be vaccinated at a sports complex in the commercial capital Abidjan. Onlookers cheered as a health worker in a white coat and pink scrubs delivered the injection.
Medical personnel, teachers and security forces members were also being vaccinated in the first phase of the campaign targeting 3% of the population.
“The vaccines offer us the hope of returning to normal in the coming months,” Achi said.
Ivory Coast has recorded 36,109 infections and 192 coronavirus-related deaths.
COVAX, which is led by the GAVI vaccines alliance along with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other partners, aims to deliver over 1.3 billion doses to 92 low- and middle-income countries, covering up to 20% of their populations.
The initiative hopes to level a playing field that has seen wealthier nations vaccinate millions while comparatively few have received shots in poorer parts of the world. Only a handful of African countries have begun inoculating their citizens with vaccines purchased bilaterally or received as donations.
“This is a day many of us have been dreaming of and working for more than 12 months,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
In the next week, COVAX expects to deliver 11 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines, it said in a statement.
The allocation of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine to be delivered to participating countries between now and the end of May is expected on Tuesday, it added.
‘WHY BE SCARED?’
Even with free doses from COVAX, many poorer countries will struggle to reach herd immunity any time soon and must find financing for distribution and community outreach.
Ivory Coast received 504,000 doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine from COVAX on Friday. After the first phase, it plans to expand access to people over 50, those with chronic diseases and travellers.
Over a hundred people lined up early on Monday outside the complex in Abidjan’s Treichville neighbourhood to receive their first shot.
“Why be scared?” asked David Elloh, a teacher, after being vaccinated. “It’s a vaccine like any other. I am relieved.”
Africa has reported relatively few COVID-19 deaths compared to other continents, but the death toll has been rising fast as a second wave of infections overwhelms hospitals.
Ivory Coast’s neighbour Ghana, which last week became the first country to receive a delivery of vaccines from COVAX, plans to officially begin its vaccination campaign on Tuesday.
On Monday, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo and his wife received the vaccine at a military hospital in an effort to boost public confidence ahead of the campaign.
“It is important that I set the example that this vaccine is safe by being the first to have it,” Akufo-Addo said.
(Reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly and Ange Aboa in Abidjan; Additional reporting by Christian Akorlie in Accra and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Bate Felix, Bernadette Baum and Giles Elgood)